As designers and architects look to encompass green materials in their products and projects, artists are also exploring ways to re-use and recycle.

Ecological concerns, and responses to issues of environmental degradation and global warming in particular, provide the foundation for work from Melbourne artist Ash Keating.

His hybrid practice varies from process-based projects to public art, performance and installation. Commandeering the role of environmental advocate, he successfully integrates his political activism with his artistic strategies.

Influenced by the sheer amount of waste that industries discard on a daily basis, Keating commenced a project in 2005 – his Press Release series – that showed him cutting out the image of an Australian gannet bird from 6500 discarded newspapers and then ‘releasing’ the paper bird cut-out in various galleries around Australia and New Zealand.

Commenting on the large-scale turnover of un-recycled newspapers distributed each day, the mixed-media installation consisting of six exhibitions was accompanied by the process video entitled 250 Hours – Work for 1 Person, which documented the performative actions of his public newspaper releases.

The three-year project initiated Keating’s wider investigation into today’s culture of excess.

His video installation Support can make a difference, included in Octopus 6: We know who we are at Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces in 2006, commented on the significant amount of waste left from the mass advertising of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006.

The exhibition challenged its viewers to rethink relationships with national identity and ethical behaviour. A revered project in the gallery’s annual program, Octopus 6 united six artists from around Australia who shared an ethical approach to artistic production and a similar view of the role of artists within the broader socio-political framework.

Keating uses video to record performative actions in real time, and studio and project processes in time-lapse format, providing the artist with evidence of his ephemeral projects and enabling him to show anew elements of his performances in varying contexts.

In 2006 Keating also travelled to Santiago, Chile, as part of the South Project, to create a media project entitled Pascua Lama, forming part of Transversa at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo. The work primarily aimed to raise awareness in local communities of the environmental impact of Barrick Gold’s proposal for a cyanide-leach mine in a glacial area of the Huasco Valley in northern Chile.

Highlighting the dangers of using the lethal chemical in mining, including the destruction of wildlife and the pollution of land and waterways, the powerful work utilised the temporary construction hoardings outside the museum to provide the public with facts, information and a replica of a protest mural from the valley.

Transversa was a curatorial project designed by Zara Stanhope and Danae Mossman to foster networks and encourage collaboration across intercontinental borders in the Southern Hemisphere.

For Melbourne’s 2008 Next Wave Festival, Keating presented 2020?, reconfiguring landfill waste into a ‘one night only’ sculptural assemblage. The exhibit was then melded into a large-scale, evolving installation aimed at focusing attention on the importance of environmental sustainability within contemporary art practice.

The salvaged materials were continuously reconfigured into original installations, interventions, structures and object-based works throughout the duration of the festival by Keating and a team of fourteen collaborating artists: Kay Abude, Campbell Drake, Ardi Gunawan, James Guerts, Bianca Hester, Inverted Topology, Susan Jacobs, Rus Kitchin, Bridie Lunney, Lucas Maddock, Pandarosa, Mia Salsjo and Soo-Joo Yoo.

Beginning with the interception of numerous truckloads of industrial waste, the process-based project involved discarded material being diverted from landfill and dumped as a whole in the Arts House space at Melbourne’s Meat Market.

The shifting installation took place before a backdrop of re-used advertising billboards, manipulated in the tradition of guerrilla communication. The 2020? show was under constant surveillance, with live feeds and video footage of the projects and installations continuously projected back into the exhibition space.

Putting waste to use and amalgamating it to form an aesthetic outcome, Keating aimed to highlight the ecological fallout of capitalism and mass production through the perpetual wastage of good resources that large industry sends to landfill.

Label Land, produced for Project Standingby 0004 in Korea, followed soon after. For this program coordinated by Gallery Loop Alternative Artspace and the Mizy Center (Seoul Youth Center for Cultural Exchange) in 2008, one local and four international artists were selected to work with ten Korean art students.

Together with Andre Hemer (New Zealand), Luis Cantillo (Colombia), Sarawat Chutiwongpeti (Thailand) and Yang Achi (Korea), Keating developed Label Land as a commentary on the global brands consumed in excess by society.

The project was finalised with an exhibition in the unusual setting of Xii Gallery, the main showroom of model housing from large corporation Xii, a manufacturer of luxury apartment complexes. Witnessing the rapid growth of construction and consumption in Korea, the humour of this work is grounded in the seriousness of its message.

An ecological or socio-political imperative may act as a starting point for Keating’s projects, but the direction of his work is in constant evolution. He is hopeful that his hands-on approach will encourage improved environmental practices and a reconsideration of current waste processes worldwide.  

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